4 Ways to Bootstrap Your Business Like a Punk

Sep 19, 2012 -
So you're thinking of starting a business. Know-how and funding would be nice, but they’re not completely necessary. Punks founded a whole genre of music with just the basics—and you can start your business the same way. Here are some key lessons from the punk movement you can apply to your business strategy:

1. DIY or Die

DIY is essential to being a good bootstrapper, but there's a secret to DIY that you should know: you must not be afraid of making mistakes or looking like a moron. Don’t let those nagging perfectionist voices keep you from trying. The voices will be right in the beginning— you will suck—but the only way to get past that point is through the trial-and-error process. When it comes to starting your business, just start right now. Don’t worry about finding funding or wait until you can take that class. Getting as much done right now to the best of your ability is the best way to improve both your ability and your product. It’s that simple. Do you think Sid Vicious knew how to play bass when he joined the Sex Pistols? No way. He looked cool, so they gave him a bass, told him to rock out and turned his amp all the way down until he got the hang of it. Of course, you shouldn’t just rely on your good looks. You’re going to have to find some way to teach yourself as you go through the trial-and-error process. My favorite way of teaching myself is Good-Will-Hunting-style (by going to the library), but there are less introverted ways, too. Seek out some people who know more than you do and ask them for advice, or sneak into some college lecture halls (the bigger the better). And you can always learn a lot by tapping online resources.

2. Make Do

Make the most of the free resources you already have, whether they be knowledge, skills, contacts, whatever. Chances are you already have enough. Only allow yourself to spend money on a solution if there’s no other way to solve the problem. And I mean no other way. You’ll also notice the best solutions to problems are usually inexpensive, boring or not all that attractive, even though they're effective. Like a cheap denim jacket you put patches on so that it looks cool. Eventually it tears, so here come the safety pins. Then a sleeve gets mangled, so the jacket becomes a vest—and all the while that you’re not replacing it, you save more and more money, so when it’s finally time to break down and buy a leather jacket, you can afford a really nice one. Making the most out of what you have also eliminates a lot of waste, keeping your business lean. Keep buying jackets and you’ll have more jackets than you need. Eventually you’ll have to lose the extra weight, and that’s a waste of resources.

3. Stick it to the Man

Being a punk also requires some contempt for consumerism, and although that much cynicism can be depressing, it can also be motivating if you ever find yourself wondering why you’re working so hard. When I need to buy things for my business, I like to read posts that make me feel appalled at what consumerism has done to the environment and how it exploits the poor. It keeps me from buying more than the essentials. Skip this step and you’ll find yourself picking up things like letterhead you’ll never use and a business card holder that looks cute, both of which won’t match anything when you inevitably rebrand or pivot.

4. Substance Over Style

Most punk songs have, what, like four chords max? “Chuck Berry chords.” they call them. These are the chords everyone learns to play first, because they’re easy to understand. Punks built a whole genre of music on fundamentals, but the best punks didn’t neglect the substance. Even though the music all sounded the same, the lyrics were revolutionary and unique to each band. It was the words, the content, that really touched people. The same should be true for your product. Some say punk is dead, but I disagree. I think it lives in the bones of many of us, and it still has a lot to teach us. When you use your resources properly, you can't help but get ahead. Felicia Ceballos-Marroquin is an online marketing specialist and an expert in adapting new internet technology to fit the needs of small businesses. She started Acrassy Online Marketing and Web Design in Los Angeles to give small businesses the marketing power of a large corporation on a small scale.